Review: EVH 5150 III 50-Watt EL34 Head

EVH 5150 III 50-watt EL34 head, shown with matching 2x12 cabinet

EVH 5150 III 50-watt EL34 head, shown with matching 2x12 cabinet (Image credit: EVH)

The EVH 5150 IIIS EL34 100-watt head, which EVH released just over a year ago, is one of the most impressive amps to come along in recent times. However, if the amp has one flaw, it’s that it just may be a little too much amp for most guitarists, especially ones who don’t regularly tour in arenas and stadiums or make six figures at each show (hell, most of us are lucky if we even get a six-pack to play a show).

Fortunately, guitarists didn’t have to wait very long for EVH to follow up with a 50-watt version—the EVH 5150 III 50-watt EL34 head. Like the previous 50-watt companion to the regular EVH 5150 III 100-watt head, the 50-watt EL34 version costs less than half the price of its 100-watt EL34 counterpart and weighs just over half as much as well, but it delivers about 90 percent of the same features and performance, making it an incredible deal for guitarists who lust for the incredible EVH 5150 III EL34 tones.

The EVH 5150 III 50-Watt EL34 head comes in a “small box” configuration, which means the front and rear panels provide fewer control knobs than the 100-watt head. As a result, the 50-watt head retains the original three-channel design with independent volume and gain controls for each channel, but channels 1 and 2 share the same set of low, mid and high EQ controls and the volume and gain controls for channels 1 and 2 are configured as stacked concentric knobs. Also, instead of individual presence and resonance controls for each channel as found on the 100-watt head, all three channels share global presence and resonance controls. The only other significant features found on the 100-watt head that are missing on the 50-watt amp are the external bias adjustment and test points. However, the 50-watt head includes additional features not found on the 100-watt head: a ¼-inch headphone output and MIDI input jack.

Beyond those features and the 50-watt circuit powered by a pair of matched JJ EL34 tubes, the 50-watt head is essentially the same as the 100-watt head. There are ¼-inch send and return jacks for the effects loop, a ¼-inch line output, a pair of parallel speaker outputs and 4/8/16-ohm impedance switch as well as a footswitch jack for the included four-switch foot controller for selecting individual channels and the effects loop. The front panel also provides two push buttons for manually selecting channels.

Like its 100-watt big brother, the EVH 5150 III 50-Watt EL34 head is impressively versatile. Overall, the tonal personality for each channel on both amps’ heads is identical. The 100-watt head may be louder, but the 50-watt head hits the power tube distortion sweet spot at lower volume levels that most guitarists will find more appealing for studio recording applications and gigs in smaller venues where “total annihilation” volume levels aren’t necessary. But while the overall volume output may be lower, the distortion character, particularly of channels 2 and 3, is actually more aggressive, which is really impressive considering that the 100-watt 5150 IIIS EL34 head was already one of the most animalistic, snarling amps I’ve ever played.

(Image credit: EVH)

Channel 1 provides British-flavored clean tones with ample headroom and distinctive treble sparkle. The clean tones reside between the slinky sheen of a great Marshall clean tone (think Andy Summers, Malcolm Young or Jamie West-Oram) and the chime of a Vox AC30, most closely resembling the glorious grind of a Watkins Dominator. Channel 2 delivers the ballsy, classic, coveted crunch and distortion tones of Eddie Van Halen’s legendary Marshall Super Lead heard on the first six Van Halen albums. The midrange on channel 2 is simply perfect, pushing solos right to the front of the mix and expressing every fine nuance in detail and high definition.

For modern metal guitarists, channel 3 is the stunner. The saturation is harmonically dense, making a single guitar sound like four or more stacked guitar tracks, yet string-to-string definition remains crystal clear. The bass is massive, but it is easily tightly focused with the resonance control.

LIST PRICE: $1,517.23

  • A pair of JJ EL34 power amp tubes and seven JJ ECC83/12AX7 preamp/effects loop tubes provide 50 watts of output and incredible gain.

● Channels 1 and 2 feature stacked concentric volume and gain controls and share the same set of low, mid and high EQ controls.

● The ¼-inch headphone output jack and MIDI input jack are features not included on the flagship 100-watt 5150 IIIS EL34 head.

● The included four-switch foot controller allows users to select individual channels and the effects loop with clickless, pop-free performance.

While the EVH 5150 III 50-Watt EL34 head may cost less than half as much as its 100-watt big brother, it’s an incredible value as it offers the same versatile variety of first-class tones in a much more compact package.

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Chris Gill

Chris is the co-author of Eruption - Conversations with Eddie Van Halen. He is a 40-year music industry veteran who started at Boardwalk Entertainment (Joan Jett, Night Ranger) and Roland US before becoming a guitar journalist in 1991. He has interviewed more than 600 artists, written more than 1,400 product reviews and contributed to Jeff Beck’s Beck 01: Hot Rods and Rock & Roll and Eric Clapton’s Six String Stories.